The Norfolk News of June 9th, 1885 reported on the inquest held at Great Ellingham into the death of labourer, Charles Halls.
Halls had died from lockjaw arising from injuries received to the forefinger of his right hand while taking part in what was referred to as ‘a little demonstration‘ after the election of members of the School Board on 22nd May.
Chequers Public House during the tenure (c.1871-1908) of Landlord Ellis Carter. Courtesy of Ray Beales
The inquest was held by the County Coroner at the Chequers Inn, with Mr Cobon (presumably local farmer Henry Cobon) acting as foreman for the jury. The Reverend S W Turner and the Reverend Mr Harvey (the Baptist Minister) were also present with Mr Brooke, a solicitor of Attleborough, representing the widow, Harriet Halls. Members of Charles Halls’ family and friends were also in attendance. The Police Authority was represented by Sergeant Clarke.
It was only due to strong feelings in the village that there should be an inquest, that the coroner (once notified of the circumstances) arranged an inquest, and the funeral (which had been arranged for the Sunday) was postponed.
On opening the inquest the coroner said that “had the body been buried he should have had no alternative but to have ordered its exhumation.”
The coroner also asked the jury to consider how the injury to the deceased was occasioned, and whether Charles Halls was properly treated.
What Happened after the School Election?
After the School Board elections, it was usual for one or more elected members (or the clerk) of the School Board to be carried (or dragged) around the village in a cart.
On the 22nd May, 1885, some of the villagers dragged James Toll, a retired Baptist Minister and clerk to the School Board, around the village in his cart.
James Toll told the inquest that he had heard that some of the Liberal Party intended to do this, and that he had stayed in a friend’s house to try and avoid this happening.
When he left his friend’s house, he came across a crowd (which included Charles Halls, George Beales, Charles Kerrison) with his four-wheeled trap, but he had resisted their requests to get in it. However, he was lifted into the trap, held down and dragged around the village. Toll told the inquest that he called out “Good gracious! Don’t go too far. Turn round and let me go home.“
The crowd dragging the cart stopped at the Chequers Inn and then at the Crown Public House. Toll told the inquest that two of the present jury members had stood against the Crown and he (Toll) had told them that “he was in an unpleasant situation, as the men would not let him go“, but that these two men (standing against the Crown) replied “It is only a little pleasant joke“.
Two young men by the names of John Lee and Curson, then came out of the Crown saying “We will help to drag you“.
It was after this that the trap was bumped from one side of the road to the other, and two young men presssed upon and forced down the shafts, one of which was in the hand of Charles Halls. A lad, James Fox, held some ropes.
Treatment to Charles Halls’ Fingers
Chemist, William Brown, also of Great Ellingham, told the inquest that he saw Charles Halls following the incident on 22nd May. He dressed the first and second fingers on the deceased’s right hand, although one finger was only grazed. He also treated the fingers (which he said were only flesh wounds) with ‘Balsam of Light’ and small splints.
He saw Charles Halls the next day, and Halls told William Brown that the hand was comfortable. The Chemist therefore saw no reason to take off the dressing, and told Charles Halls to go back to see him on the Sunday.
However, it appears that Charles Halls did not see the Chemist until the Sunday evening when he informed him that the fingers had became painful so he had seen Dr Ellis. William Brown told the inquest that if Halls had told him it was painful, he would have told him to put on a large poultice.
Dr Ellis told the inquest that he saw Charles Halls on the afternoon of the 23rd May. He had much difficulty in removing the splints, lint and strapping which had been applied to the deceased’s fingers, as it had been dipped in ‘Balsam’ which had formed a hard case around the dressing.
The Doctor also reported seeing a foul smelling lacerated wound, and the dressing had prevented the discharge from getting away from the wound. In his opinion, the wound should have been washed and dressed more often.
Initially after Dr Ellis had treated the wound it became healthy. However Charles Halls then showed symptons of tetanus. On observing this, Dr Ellis advised that Charles Halls should be sent to Hospital “where he would have the advantage of all scientific appliances used in such cases“.
Charles Halls needed an amputation of his finger. However his wife, family and friends initally objected to this but, after the finger had been amputated, Charles Halls died of lockjaw.
Dr Ellis was unable to say whether or not the lockjaw would have arisen if the Chemist had not dressed the finger. It may have happened even if Dr Ellis had tended the finger from the beginning.
The verdict was “death from tetanus occasioned accidentally“. No blame was attached to any person.
Who was Charles Halls?
The 1881 census finds 45 year old Attleborough born farm labourer Charles Halls living in Long Street, Great Ellingham, with his sons, Arthur 17, Herbert 14 and ten year old Fredrick. Although Charles is stated to be married (and indeed four years later, his widow Harriet attended the inquest), his wife was not at home on the night the census was taken.
Ten years earlier, the 1871 census captures Charles and Harriet Halls at Hills End, Attleborough with six sons Charles 14, William 12, James 9, Arthur 7, Herbert 4 and 8 month old Fredrick.
Charles Halls was buried in the churchyard of St James on the 8th June, 1885. He was 57 years of age. The burial entry in the parish registers records that Fredrick Harvey was the person in charge of the burial. Presumably this was the Baptist Minister present at the inquest.
Norfolk News 9th June, 1885
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD/609.
1881 census RG11/1974/90
1871 census RG10/1841/17